Austrian GP 2002 - Rubens robbed
12 May 2002
Rubens Barrichello was robbed of a certain victory in the Austrian Grand Prix by the contract extension that gave him so much motivation over the rest of the weekend.
Knowing that the further two years he has secured with the Scuderia could be lost should he not comply with team orders, the Brazilian conceded a four-second advantage in the space of three laps to allow his team leader to take his fifth win in six races and open out a 27-point gap to Juan Montoya.
It was the Colombian's sudden presence in third spot that probably prompted Ferrari's decision to switch its two cars, as Schumacher insisted afterwards that he had no idea that tactics were in the offing until he had the call from Ross Brawn on the pit-wall telling him the Barrichello would slow. Montoya had trailed the German's younger brother Ralf for much of the race, as Williams opted to follow the lengthy opening stint pioneered by McLaren in winning last year. Opting not to take tyres allowed the Colombian to sneak out ahead of the sister FW24 and, despite pressure from behind, Montoya was able to hold on for a second successive podium.
The opening lap suggested that Williams and BMW would be hard pressed to take a podium finish, as Nick Heidfeld sprinted through from row three to follow the two Ferraris into turn one. Slowed by their heavy fuel loads, neither Schumacher Jr, starting from second, or Montoya, fourth, could do anything to prevent themselves from slipping down the order, but both were able to make it around the corner safely.
Indeed, contrary to expectation, almost the entire field made it round Castrol unscathed, although Felipe Massa's youthful exuberance cost him a lot of places as he ran wide while trying to follow his team-mate through the order. Pedro de la Rosa, too, was caught out, and cruised the rest of the lap back to the pits, where his Jaguar was retired. The Spaniard has completed just three laps in the last two events.
Instead of Castrol, however, the real skirmishes did not break out until Remus, the second tight corner, where Jacques Villeneuve appeared to touch Enrique Bernoldi's Arrows as he came barrelling down the inside. The brush put the Canadian further off line, and he duly collected the sister A23 of Heinz-Harald Frentzen, spinning the luckless German into the dirt, from where he made a slow escape. Bernoldi lasted but two more laps before calling it a day with a damaged front wing and fractured brake pipe.
Heidfeld then copied his countryman's dust route when the field returned to Castrol for a second time, giving both Williams drivers a break as he dropped to fifth, just ahead of the leading McLaren of David Coulthard. The Scot had managed to get ahead of team-mate Kimi Raikkonen on the run to the first corner, but was having to defend furiously as the Finn fought back. It would be a brief scrap, however, as Raikkonen's car slowed, then expired in a familiar cloud of white smoke as he exited Castrol on lap six.
Villeneuve was the man on the move in the early stages, clearly running a light fuel load in order to make rapid progress from his lowly 17th grid slot. Once clear of Jarno Trulli and team-mate Olivier Panis, who was caught up in the early melee, the Canadian quickly disposed of Allan McNish, Giancarlo Fisichella, Jenson Button and Mika Salo to lie on the fringe of the points by lap 18. Villeneuve's path was eased by the retirement of Massa's Sauber with suspension failure - something that was to have more serious echoes later in the race - but was largely down to some energetic driving from the Canadian that brought back memories of his early days in F1.
By this stage, Barrichello enjoyed a full second in hand over Schumacher Sr, with both already lapping regularly under the old lap record. Schumacher started the ball rolling on lap eight and, six laps later, the times were down into the 1min 09secs bracket. Alex Yoong became the first man to be lapped, as early as the 14th tour, as the leaders ran some five seconds faster than the Malaysian's Minardi.
Of more concern to the rest of the field, however, was the rate at which the two scarlet cars were leaving the rest of the expected frontrunners behind. By this point, it had become apparent that both Williams drivers were running heavy, but the suspicion remained that perhaps both Schumacher and Barrichello were not exactly light either.
It came as some relief, therefore, when both Ferraris dived for the pits when the safety car was scrambled to remove Panis' stranded BAR from the main straight. The Frenchman had been running competitively in the midfield when the Honda engine behind him let go without warning, seizing the rear of the car solid and pitching Panis perilously close to the pit-wall. A brief flash fire followed before the driver hopped out but, with no drive, the car had to be craned away.
Schumacher, Barrichello and Villeneuve all ducked into the pits, looking to gain as big an advantage whilst the Mercedes CLK toured around as possible. JV's ambitions were dashed slightly, however, when he was then called in for a drive-through penalty as payback for the assault on Frentzen at Remus first time around. Schumacher resumed behind his brother, having had to queue for fuel behind Barrichello, but the Brazilian was able to regain the lead immediately.
Surprisingly, the trio were the only ones to take advantage of the field's slow progress, but the rest were given a second chance not long after the pace car disappeared.
Within two corners of the restart, Heidfeld and Takuma Sato were involved in a sickening accident that left the Japanese rookie in need of medical assistance, and the German visibly shaken as he climbed from his wrecked car.
The incident began some 100 yards from the corner, when Heidfeld's Sauber veered right under braking, possibly as the result of a suspension failure, spun as he applied the brakes, and headed backwards towards the apex. The grass verge did little to slow the blue car's progress and, having shot across the bows of Montoya's Williams, struck Sato's Jordan squarely amidships, The Sauber's momentum took both cars far into the gravel but, with debris spread across a wide area, the organisers had no option but to call a full course yellow.
Heidfeld was able to climb from what remained of his car, but Sato was clearly in more trouble. Although able to communicate with Dr Sid Watkins and his medical staff, the Jordan driver had to be helped from his shattered EJ12 and was carried to the waiting ambulance on a stretcher with oxygen mask firmly in place. It was a relief to all who witnessed the impact, therefore, that initial reports gave the Japanese driver a promising bill of health before he was airlifted to nearby Graz hospital for precautionary scans.
With the safety car out for eight laps, most of the field took the opportunity of resuming at the halfway point refuelled and rebooted. Only the Williams duo stuck to their original gameplan. The order at the restart had Barrichello still firmly in front, with the Schumacher brothers in line astern, separated only by the backmarkers they hadn't cleared before the pace car reappeared. Montoya held the fourth place he had inherited from Heidfeld on lap two, with Coulthard now holding off Sato's team-mate Giancarlo Fisichella for fifth.
The Italian dropped away from the McLaren when he made his own pit call, allowing the mercurial Villeneuve into the points, and the Canadian wasted little time in dealing with Monaco neighbour Coulthard to assume fifth. This became third when, finally, the white-suited Williams mechanics filed into the pit-lane to receive, first, Schumacher Jr, then Montoya.
The timing of the stops was crucial, and the Colombian, opting not to take on new rubber, was able to build on his flying in lap to emerge from the tight pit-lane fractionally ahead of his team-mate. The race was on for third, however, with Ralf still visibly the quicker of the pair, and it was this fight - and the one for fifth - that kept the crowd entertained to the end.
With one of the BMW-powered cars likely to finish on the podium, unless their rivalry got the better of them, some attention at least fell upon the four-way scrap for the final points. Villeneuve had, by this stage, been in for the 'splash-and-dash' that would complete his three-part race and dropped to eighth, now on an equal footing with those he was chasing.
Fisichella had got the better of both Button and Coulthard since his one and only stop, but had a three-car train in his wake, prompting him to defend furiously. This he did to the flag, giving Jordan some succour after the Sato incident by opening its 2002 account. DC fended off Button for the final point as the order remained unchanged.
The contest at the front appeared to be all but over well before the chequered flag was taken from its stand, for Barrichello had managed to re-establish his four-second lead over the reigning world champion and looked to be heading for only his second ever F1 win. The cynics could not accept the fact, however, and pointed to increased radio activity on the Ferrari section of pit-wall as proof that something was amiss.
Sure enough, the gap between the two red cars began to shrink at more than the rate that Schumacher's new lap records would have suggested and, with a lap to run, just a second remained between the championship leader and his Brazilian team-mate. With memories of twelve months previously, when Barrichello ceded the runners-up spot to his team-mate, flashing through the minds of the A1-Ring crowd, it became visibly obvious that the long-time leader had been asked to slow.
As the pair rounded the final corner, Barrichello pulled aside in an action replay of 2002 but, with the remains of Villeneuve's Honda rising into the air, it was victory that had gone up in smoke this time.
1. Michael Schumacher Germany Ferrari-Ferrari 71 laps 1hr 33min 51.562secs
2. Rubens Barrichello Brazil Ferrari-Ferrari +00.182secs
3. Juan Montoya Colombia Williams-BMW +17.730secs
4. Ralf Schumacher Germany Williams-BMW +18.448secs
5. Giancarlo Fisichella Italy Jordan-Honda +49.965secs
6. David Coulthard Britain McLaren-Mercedes +50.672secs
7. Jenson Button Britain Renault-Renault +52.229secs
8. Mika Salo Finland Toyota-Toyota +1min 09.425secs
9. Allan McNish Britain Toyota-Toyota +1min 09.71811.140secs
10. Jacques Villeneuve Canada BAR-Honda +1 lap (not running)
11. Heinz-Harald Frentzen Germany Arrows-Cosworth +2 laps
12. Mark Webber Australia Minardi-Asiatech +2 laps
Rtd Jarno Trulli Italy Renault-Renault 44 laps completed
Rtd Alex Yoong Malaysia Minardi-Asiatech 42 laps completed
Rtd Eddie Irvine Britain Jaguar-Cosworth 38 laps completed
Rtd Nick Heidfeld Germany Sauber-Petronas 27 laps completed
Rtd Takuma Sato Japan Jordan-Honda 26 laps completed
Rtd Olivier Panis France BAR-Honda 22 laps completed
Rtd Felipe Massa Brazil Sauber-Petronas 7 laps completed
Rtd Kimi Raikkonen Finland McLaren-Mercedes 5 laps completed
Rtd Enrique Bernoldi Brazil Arrows-Cosworth 2 laps completed
Rtd Pedro de la Rosa Spain Jaguar-Cosworth 0 laps completed
Michael Schumacher Ferrari-Ferrari 1min 09.298secs lap 68 New lap record